Acts of Balance

December 10, 1999

By Michael Jessen

Author wannabes will tell you they're dying to have a book published; Grant Copeland didn't start writing until he learned that he was dying. The 60-year-old New Denver resident admits he always wanted to be an author, but never found time during a busy career as a planning consultant, entrepreneur and environmentalist.

But when he awoke from surgery a year ago to be told he had cancer and three to six months to live, Copeland decided to write. The result, "Acts of Balance" published by New Society Publishers, is an act of courage and defiance.

It's also a damn fine book which touches many of my favourite themes - the need to sustainably harvest resources, eliminate subsidies to resource extractors, implement green taxes, preserve the cultural diversity embodied in First Nations' people, and design economic development that is community-based. The book even praises two high-tech solutions - the Ballard fuel cell and the Hydroxyl wastewater treatment system.

Let me be up front; I've known Grant Copeland for almost all of the 26 years he has lived in the West Kootenay so there was a lot of love and respect in the room when we sat down to talk in the basement office of his "beautiful little house" on the last day of November.

Copeland, his trademark tousle of hair long sacrificed to chemotherapy, is tired yet alert. His tall frame has lost about 30 pounds to the disease that is the leading cause of death among North Americans aged 35 to 64.

Without hesitation, Copeland refers me to the most important point in his book, a table on page 135 that estimates "the direct and indirect public costs of the BC forest industry" at more than $10 billion annually: a staggering $136,000 subsidy per forest worker. Though based on meticulous research, this is information that is sure to be controversial.

Included in the estimate are direct expenditures by the Canadian and BC governments and taxation benefits given to forest industry corporations. Also included are other financial transfers and benefits to the companies, such as corporate bailouts, lost stumpage, and environmental damage from logging.

"They can't refute the figures in my book," Copeland says defiantly. "They'd be crazy to try."

Ever the fighter, Copeland adds: "If they want to argue the numbers, let's get it on."

He challenges that an alliance between the International Woodworkers of America (IWA), the forest industry, and the BC government has maintained Mafia-like control over the economic aspects of the forest industry. While criticizing the alliance for resisting "attempts to formulate effective economic transition strategies based on ecologically sustainable parameters," Copeland calls for an "immediate province-wide reduction of at least 50 percent in the AAC (allowable annual cut) to bring it more in line with the sustainable limits of ecosystem-based forestry."

In case anyone is worried such a reduction is a recipe for economic disaster, Copeland provides reassuring evidence that the 47 percent reduction in the allowable cut ordered to save the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest has actually resulted in an improved economy.

"There's been an increase in jobs, an increase in wages, these facts are irrefutable," he says. "That's because quality of life has become a major consideration. People are looking for a good place to live and work."

After 11 months working on the book, Copeland spent more than two hours signing books at New Denver's Motherlode Bookstore on November 20. The book launch was attended by more than 200 people.

In an age of high technology, Copeland is most proud of the fact the book was produced entirely in New Denver, a village of about 600 residents nestled on the shore of Slocan Lake in southeastern BC.

"The complete book was sent to the printer on computer disks," says Copeland, acknowledging the help of many talented village residents like Lorie Langford and Jeff Bustard. "This is really remarkable."

The village has also welcomed the book enthusiastically. "It's the all-time best-selling book in the community," says Copeland, with 74 copies (and counting) sold.

"Acts of Balance" deserves a wide audience since it offers real-world examples of how we can begin to make the necessary changes to a more environmentally sound and socially appropriate way of living.

Copeland's experiences as a young graduate student in urban planning establishing a houseboat community in Seattle, his 25-year struggle with the Valhalla Wilderness Society to increase local control of the forest industry in the Slocan Valley, and the frustrations and joys of planning and building the Retallack Resort form the basis of his thesis that we need to develop an economy rooted in people and place.

Community-based economic development, according to Copeland, is far more difficult than it should be, with miles of red tape to overcome. He eloquently illustrates this theme in his chapter on the construction of the Retallack Resort, a winter snowcat skiing and summer eco-tour development located on the old townsite of Whitewater, midway between Kaslo and New Denver. Investors unnecessarily spent at least $175,000 in the bureaucratic quagmire of provincial and regional government regulations, he writes.

Copeland is blunt about humanity's prospects if we do not "successfully implement a profound transition in the way we use nature." His book provides a number of proposals to ease the way.

"We need to deal with population and the distribution of wealth," Copeland says during our conversation, emphasizing the need for zero population growth. "We need to deal with these issues quickly or we're toast."

Citing statistics from the United Nations Human Development Index, Copeland decries the fact that 200 individuals have more wealth than 41 percent of the world population.

"Most significantly," he writes, "these 200 people more than doubled their net worth to $1 trillion in only four years (1994 to 1998).

"The system that allows this to happen has got to be changed," he tells me as the wind-driven rain pelts on his office windows. "It's too far out of whack."

Copeland believes three things need to happen to facilitate a turnaround in humanity's fortunes.

"We need to start harvesting our resources sustainably, we need to stop the subsidies and we must institute taxes on pollution, taxes on wasted energy," comments Copeland. He adds he received no assistance or recognition for building a timber-frame house with an in-floor heating system and super insulation that costs only $35 a month to heat electrically in winter.

Currently a board member of the Sierra Club of BC, Copeland was honoured recently when club conservation chair Vicky Husband announced the establishment of the Grant Copeland Award and the Grant Copeland Fund to recognize the contribution he had made to the conservation of the natural environment in BC. The award will be given annually for outstanding achievement in balancing conservation, economic viability, and community well being in BC. The fund will advance work in areas such as ecological economics, promotion of appropriate eco-tourism, and the protection of the Stikine, Grant's favourite area.

During our interview, a friend from Copeland's University of Washington days phones from Chile. The friend has just heard about his illness. Copeland's matter of fact attitude leads him to comment to his friend: "It ain't fair, there's no fairness in life.

"I've done a lot in my 60 years that I'm really proud of, mainly in Ryan," Copeland tells his friend, mentioning that his 21-year-old son and "best buddy" is hoping to attend medical school. He adds that he is pleased to have been part of the environmental movement that has helped increase the size of protected areas in BC.

Though the struggle to change the world "hasn't ended in my lifetime," Copeland remains optimistic.

"I try to think positive, rather than dwell on skepticism and cynicism," he says. "We need to do as much as possible individually to make change. That's what really counts to me."

As a blueprint for that change, Copeland has left us a wonderful legacy. If "the luck of the draw" decrees it, "Acts of Balance" more than adequately serves as Copeland's last will and testament.

ONE SMALL STEP - "Conceiving and implementing community-based economic development projects and processes which are relatively benign environmentally, appropriate socially, and feasible economically, presents a crucially important and difficult challenge that will require a great deal of collaboration and cooperation among many people. To all of you involved in, and committed to, this challenge, I extend my deepest appreciation and encouragement." Grant Copeland, from the acknowledgements of "Acts of Balance."

Grant Copeland's book is available from New Society Publishers and can be purchased online at or by telephone at 1-800-567-6772. If your local bookstore doesn't have a copy, try the Motherlode Bookstore in New Denver at 250-358-7274 or e-mail A frightening, yet inspirational book about cancer and the environment is Sandra Steingraber's "Living Downstream," published by Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. More information about the subsidies given to activities that harm the environment can be found in David Roodman's "The Natural Wealth of Nations" published by W.W. Norton and Company. Retallack Alpine Adventures and the Retallack Resort can be found on the Internet at and e-mailed at

Postscript: Grant Copeland died at midnight Saturday, January 8, 2000 after a courageous and lengthy battle with cancer.

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